The popular lingerie chain that boasts female sexual empowerment is accused of setting up situations in which employees (who are referred to as " show girls " in the employee handbook) could be sexually harassed by customers. The handbook, which is called "The Little Black Book," includes an overtly-sexual script of "greetings and phrases" to recite to customers. Among the most eyebrow-raising phrases are "Welcome to the Pleasure Parlour," "We've got tickles for you" and "Spank me if I'm wrong." A specific section about male customers in the handbook also directs the staff to greet them with a “killer pout."
When employees complained about being harassed by customers, management told them to "suck it up."
The handbook also dictates the employees' appearance in ways that some may find extreme. Workers must wear high heels and lipstick, can only wear red, black or nude nail polish, and are forbidden from wearing "jersey stretch fabrics," a.k.a. anything comfortable. Instead, it mandates that workers are to wear "satin, silk, lace and chiffon" and to be perfectly coifed at all times. The handbook also reminds employees that "ladies talk with their hands" as if it were a weird 19th-century etiquette book or something.
A petition has been started by former employee named Chanelle Rogers who says the lingerie brand has failed to support their workers when they felt "sexually harassed and intimidated by customers." Here is, in part, what Rogers has to say about the alleged skewed ethics of Honey Birdette:
I saw women mocked for daring to apply for a job at Honey Birdette. I saw workers humiliated and threatened by management because they weren't wearing perfectly applied lipstick all day, their heels weren't high enough, and because they didn't "talk the way a Honey should talk".
I saw workers sexually harassed and intimidated by customers - and when these women spoke up, management told them to suck it up.
The treatment of the employees is in direct contrast with the picture that Honey Birdette tries to paint— a workplace lead by women that preaches empowerment.
Honey Birdette's management pretend they're all about empowering women, but they've sacrificed their values and put their workers in physical danger just to make a profit.
It's disgraceful and it needs to end. Workers at Honey Birdette boutiques have a right to feel safe and respected at work.
The protest, which included a good old fashioned bra-burning, was supported by the Young Workers Centre— a network of lawyers, organizers and educators that help employees understand and exercise their rights. Keelia Fitzpatrick, the centre’s coordinator, released a statement about the protest of the Melbourne location.
Honey Birdette claims to be about ’empowering women’ – but the only people Honey Birdette are empowering are customers who want to sexually harass women. We’ve had many women contact us to speak out about these awful workplace practices, but what’s really alarming is how many of these women are speaking to us anonymously. There’s a real culture of fear among the workers at Honey Birdette. It’s time for Honey Birdette to practice what they preach and empower staff to stand up for safety.
It is important to note that the women are not protesting the dress code directly, but the harassment they receive from customers as a direct result of following the rules put in place by management. Furthermore, they are taking a stand against management's inaction when it comes to creating a safe work environment for employees. Feeling targeted and unsafe at work is something no employee should have to take, and these women aren't.